Five Strategies to Adapt Bank Branches to The New Normal

There is a wealth of evidence that consumers are using online and mobile channels as the primary channels for their everyday banking needs:

  • Having reached critical mass in online banking penetration, the largest U.S. banks continue to report strong growth in active mobile banking customers (Chase +23% y/y to 17.2 million; Bank of America up 17% to 15.5 million; and Wells Fargo +22% to 13.1 million)
  • Regional bank customers are also growing their usage of non-branch channels.  45% of PNC customers use non-branch channels for a majority of banking transactions.  Fifth Third reports that ATM and mobile channels’ share of deposit volume rose from 12% to 31% over the past two years. KeyBank claims that online and mobile transactions are growing by 9% annually, while branch transactions are declining by 3%.

The rise of self-service channels for everyday banking transactions is leading banks to re-assess their investment in their branch networks.  For example, banks are changing traditional assumptions as to what constitutes optimal branch density within markets.  In a recent presentation, KeyBank claimed that branch density is now less relevant as long as a bank can pair branches with a good mobile offering. In addition, in a low-revenue-growth environment, banks are under pressure to cut costs in order to meet earnings expectations. As a result of these factors, banks are cutting branch numbers.

  • Bank of America is expected to cut branches to below 5,000 by the end of 2014, compared to more than 5,700 in the second quarter of 2011.  It recently announced the sale of branch clusters in North Carolina and Michigan.
  • Over the past six months Citibank sold all of its branches in Texas, as it focuses its energies on a select number of large metro markets.
  • KeyBank has closed or sold 8% of its branches over the past two years, and plans to cut its network further, by about 2-3% per year.

However, banks remain strongly committed to their branch networks.  This is largely due to the fact that consumers continue to value the branch channel, even if usage has declined.  A recent ABA survey found that 21% of consumers named the branch as their preferred banking channel, up from 18% in 2013. In addition, banks recognize the benefits in encouraging customers to use multiple channels.  Wells Fargo found that customers using its stores as well as online and mobile channels have a 70% higher purchase rate than customers who only use online and mobile. With in this mind, the following are five branch strategies that banks should follow, with examples of banks that have already implemented these approaches:

  1. Deploy new branch formats.  Given lower traffic and transaction volumes in branches, banks should launch branch prototypes with smaller footprints, so that they can maintain their physical presence, but at a lower cost.
    • PNC has converted 200 of its branches to a smaller format, with 100 more to follow by the end of 2014.
  2. Launch flagship branches in selected markets.  With changing ideas around branch density, bank can consolidate multiple branches into a large flagship store.  These flagship stores act as a brand beacon for the bank in specific markets, as well as providing space for the bank to showcase new innovations
  3. Reconfigure branch staff.  As branch activity is switching from transaction processing to sales and advice, and branches switch to smaller format, bank can reduce the average number of staff per branch, but should also change the functional balance, with fewer tellers and more sales specialists.
    • In the 18 months to June 2014, Fifth Third cut 22% of its branch service staff, but increased sales staff by 6%.
    • Over the past year, PNC has grown its number of investment professionals in branches by 4%.
  4. Incorporate technology into branches. As consumers become more accustomed with using technology for their everyday financial needs, banks should showcase customer-facing technology in branches.  This can enhance the user experience and capture sales opportunities
    • Regions is installing two-way video to enable customers communicate directly with bankers via an ATM.
  5. Open branches outside of footprint.  As having a critical mass of branches in a market is no longer a prerequisite for success, banks can open branches beyond their traditional retail footprint, to target specific consumer or business clusters.
    • City National has established branches in New York City, Atlanta and Nashville, dedicated to targeting entertainment firms that are clustered within these markets.

5 Branch Reinventions that Can Turn Bricks and Mortar into Gold

Iconoclasts are forecasting the end of the retail bank branch. Simple and Moven have gone so far as to delete the word “bank” from their names, and make the rounds at industry events heralding the brave new branch-free landscape.
But US consumers and small businesses are channel omnivores. Give them mobile, online, ATM, phone and branch—all will be used by some, and some will be used by all. The cost of channel choice is great, and retail margins are on a diet, so reinvention is an economic necessity. Channel R&D is accelerating as banks large and small find the unique branch blueprint.
Look at these strategic innovators:

  1. Forget the movies, head to the branch. Small but mighty Umpqua Bank, with 200 “neighborhood stores” in the Pacific Northwest, is starting a “slow banking” revolution. Giant plasma touchscreens are used as “Discover Walls” to showcase neighborhood events, local merchants and podcasts. Wii bowling nights and Food Truck Tuesdays are big draws. Umpqua’s strategies add up to fast growth in key demographics: young, upscale families and small businesses.
  2. No longer solo, the branch is now the fulcrum of an omnichannel world. TD Bank lives their tagline—“America’s Most Convenient Bank”—legacy of the 2008 Commerce acquisition. TD’s 7-day, evening hours branch access has long been a differentiator. Now, omnichannel integration is sophisticated. Local branch manager videos and banner ads are served up in real-time by recognizing customer IP addresses. No surprise TD’s 2013 ad campaign abandons Regis and Kelly for “Bank human, again” featuring their branches as the headline act.
  3. Tellers are out, specialists are in. Chase, with 5600 branches, has got the yin and yang of their branch future figured out. Service costs are being squeezed through self-service kiosks: ATMs on steroids that can handle 90% of all teller transactions. At the same time, Chase is ramping sales horsepower with a six-fold increase in Private Bank branch presence , delivering 5x growth in the number of Private Bank clients since 2010. Other Sales Specialists in branch have grown 20%. And Chase’s net branch count is increasing, with new builds that are smaller and specialist-rich.
  4. Going virtual and mobilePNC is working towards a vision of less physical density and more multi-channel options, reducing their branch count from today’s 2850 selectively. Going well beyond the now-familiar mobile deposit and digital/social contact center options, PNC is rapidly expanding mobile stores, street teams, community brand ambassadors and segment-specific “thin branches” that match the needs of their micromarket.  Watch for the famous “PNC Conversation” to get even smarter and better.
  5. Cut the ad budget and buy or build branches: Since 2008, M&T has doubled in size to 725+ branches, but its footprint radius has grown a mere 27 miles. Branch density is a strategy M&T uses effectively to build brand awareness and bank profitability, and acknowledges it enables a lower advertising budget. M&T’s invested in activating branches through clever and comprehensive management of their Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills partnerships, ranging from in-branch promotions with players and shared community service programs to management of the franchise like a mega-branch, complete with sales goals. Banking Built for Baltimore demonstrates M&T’s smart leverage of branch penetration and sponsorship potential.

The answer to branch strategy isn’t as simple as develop or dismantle, reinforce or reduce. Like most strategy and marketing wins, it’s about defining a course that magnifies strengths, mitigates disadvantage and sets a course that fits your franchise, and your future.

Financial Literacy: Nicety or Necessity for Retail Banks?

In honor of Financial Literacy month (that’s April in case you’ve forgotten to note it on your calendar), we’re featuring 6 banks who have led in developing financial education resources…in very different ways:

  1. Regions Bank sponsored Financial Fitness Fridays in January 2013, with live seminars at their branch locations. Their My GreenGuide online learning portal is one of the best—engaging visuals, accessible advice and a good array of life stage-based calculators for everything from retirement to managing hardships. Engagement translates to differentiation.
  2. Wells Fargo, in their usual “do it well or not at all” style, supports
    Hands On Banking, both broad and deep in the segments served and formats offered.  From teens to entrepreneurs, teachers to the workplace, this program covers the ground–and delivered financial smarts to nearly 154,000 US consumers in 2012 alone
  3. Capital One has assembled a virtual smorgasbord of learning tools, best practices, programs, seminars, games and partnerships serving just about any segment you can name—from kids to retirees, college students to newlyweds, teachers to small business owners. Buried in the maze of options they offer are some gems—including teachable moments for teens, an easy lease-vs-buy calculator for businesses and tips on preventing ID theft. But you’d have to have spare time and determination to mine the full value out of the literacy labyrinth.
  4. Literacy’s gone mobile at Fifth Third—and this has nothing to do with a smartphone. The Financial Empowerment Mobiles are 40-foot city buses tricked out as financial learning centers, and activated with locally staffed flash mobs and other PR-worthy activities. Less intriguing, but high-impact are 53’s age-based programs from the 5th grade focused Young Bankers Club to sponsorship of ABA’s Teach Children to Save and Dave Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance high school curriculum. High community value matches well to this bank’s regional and local go-to-market strategy.
  5. A 2011 survey found that 89% of US parents think they are important in teaching children about basic money management, but less than 4 in 10 actually do it. BMO Harris is out to close the gap with its engaging and comprehensive Helpful Steps for Parents. Activity books for kids, age-based practical advice, blogs and videos targeting common teachable moments make this one of the best kid-centered efforts out there. The Zone offers activities, games and learning in kid-friendly form—and does well until it misses with the teen audience.
  6. PNC leverages their $350mm commitment to Grow Up Great, their multi-year, comprehensive initiative focused on helping kids under 5 prepare for success in school, made even better through partnership with Sesame Workshop. The program’s financial education reach includes distribution of more than a million multimedia kits, teacher training, parent guides, PNC staff volunteers and grants for local efforts across PNC’s footprint. Like PNC’s hypercool Virtual Wallet targeting the millenials, the S is for Savings product is the market leader—a $25 minimum balance is packaged with a kid-friendly interactive demo, tips and the online equivalent of a piggy bank. And these are only part of PNC’s broad-based financial education curricula.  Like most PNC efforts, their literacy approach is systematic, segmented and substantial.

Financial education offerings are as varied as their sponsors. And their value is clearly broader than ticking a box on a regulatory checklist. Financial literacy done right builds engagement and loyalty.  What’s more, smarter consumers are better customers.